Catholic board here facing smaller deficit than feared

FORT FRANCES—The local Catholic school board is facing a smaller deficit than originally expected for the 2006/07 school year, and will transfer funds from its reserves to cover the difference.
Back in July, the board had predicted a $1.9 million shortfall due to declining enrolment and cuts to provincial grants.
“We didn’t have the details on the new grant rate,” noted Chris Howarth, superintendent of business for the Northwest Catholic District School Board.
Over the summer, the board’s administration recalculated the budget with the approved ministry grants and found it would be short about $1.1 million, rather than the original estimate of $1.9 million.
Board members expressed relief and confidence that the deficit was manageable.
“We did build up reserves significantly in the late ’90s and early 2000s,” Howarth noted.
The board passed a motion at a special budget meeting Tuesday night to approved its $15,400,400 budget for the 2006/07 school year, as well as to transfer $753,924 from the reserve for classroom expenditure and another $342,579 for working funds to the revenue fund to cover the deficit.
Even after those transfers, however, the board still will have about $1.7 million in its reserve for classroom expenditure should it face a similar shortfall next year, Howarth explained.
“It’s not as bad as it looks,” he said.
“I really feel our administration has bit the bullet and done all they can to soften the blow,” said Fort Frances trustee Harold Huntley. “We do come out of this reasonably well.”
“I don’t think we’re in too bad shape,” agreed First Nations trustee Ralph Bruyere. “I’ve seen it a lot worse than this.”
Board chair Gerry Rousseau commended administration—Howarth, Education Director Mary-Catherine Kelly, and Superintendent of Education Al Cesiunas—on their work on the difficult budget over the summer months.
The $1.1 million deficit is a result of funding cuts from the province and declining enrolment.
“The revenue we’re calculating is just not where we were hoping it would be,” Howarth told trustees Tuesday night.
For example, the distant schools grant was cut nearly in half, he said. This grant is to help offset the additional costs of operating remote schools such as the local Catholic board administers.
“The declining enrolment grant did not come to what we had hoped,” Howarth added.
In fact, the Ministry of Education may be considering phasing that grant out entirely, Howarth warned. “That is a big issue for our board,” he stressed.
“We are grossly underfunded for our teacher preparation time,” Howarth continued, estimating the shortfall at about $200,000.
The Catholic board also is expecting enrolment to drop by about 80 students across its five schools, resulting in a further loss of revenue.
“We are aware we will have to deal with a declining enrolment not only this year but next year, as well,” Howarth said. “We’re not alone in the province.”
Kelly noted administration had made some cuts to professional development to help offset the deficit, adding some of that may come back to the board through professional associations such as the Council of Ontario Directors of Education (CODE) and the Catholic Principals’ Council of Ontario (CPCO).
The board will hold its first regular meeting of the new school year on Saturday, Sept. 16 at Our Lady of the Way School in Stratton.
(Fort Frances Times)